Monday, July 30, 2007

The "Mini-Surge" is Showing Some Promise

For those who disagree with the Iraq war and the Bush Administration, one thing would improve the stock of our integrity--to admit that, despite our feelings one way or the other, the mini-surge is working in Iraq. Updated 8/4/2007

On today's edition of The Right Balance with Greg Allen, guest Daveed Gartenstein-Ross pointed out much more eloquently than I that a person lacks integrity when they let their politics color their opinion of what reality is. Nowhere is this more evident than in the current goings-on in the Iraq war. A lot of people are against the Bush Administration's handling of the Iraq War (including me), and they can't seem to admit when something goes right (not including me).

Michael E. O’Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack of the Brookings Institution are now admitting that it is going right (H/T Utah Rattler).

Troop morale is higher than possibly ever.

Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

After the furnace-like heat, the first thing you notice when you land in Baghdad is the morale of our troops. In previous trips to Iraq we often found American troops angry and frustrated — many sensed they had the wrong strategy, were using the wrong tactics and were risking their lives in pursuit of an approach that could not work.

Today, morale is high. The soldiers and marines told us they feel that they now have a superb commander in Gen. David Petraeus; they are confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers needed to make a real difference.

Parts of Baghdad are looking better.

In Baghdad’s Ghazaliya neighborhood, which has seen some of the worst sectarian combat, we walked a street slowly coming back to life with stores and shoppers. The Sunni residents were unhappy with the nearby police checkpoint, where Shiite officers reportedly abused them, but they seemed genuinely happy with the American soldiers and a mostly Kurdish Iraqi Army company patrolling the street. The local Sunni militia even had agreed to confine itself to its compound once the Americans and Iraqi units arrived.

The north is seeing large-scale US troop reductions due to the success there. The Iraqis' greatest fear is that we will leave too soon.

We traveled to the northern cities of Tal Afar and Mosul. This is an ethnically rich area, with large numbers of Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens. American troop levels in both cities now number only in the hundreds because the Iraqis have stepped up to the plate. Reliable police officers man the checkpoints in the cities, while Iraqi Army troops cover the countryside. A local mayor told us his greatest fear was an overly rapid American departure from Iraq. All across the country, the dependability of Iraqi security forces over the long term remains a major question mark.

But for now, things look much better than before. American advisers told us that many of the corrupt and sectarian Iraqi commanders who once infested the force have been removed. The American high command assesses that more than three-quarters of the Iraqi Army battalion commanders in Baghdad are now reliable partners (at least for as long as American forces remain in Iraq).

O'Hanlon and Pollack state (and I agree) that we can't stay there forever, but to leave too soon would be a travesty.

How much longer should American troops keep fighting and dying to build a new Iraq while Iraqi leaders fail to do their part? And how much longer can we wear down our forces in this mission? These haunting questions underscore the reality that the surge cannot go on forever. But there is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008.

Investor's Business Daily weighs in on this subject as well.

It's now quite clear how the results of the surge will be dealt with by domestic opponents of the Iraq War: They're going to be ignored.

They're being ignored now. Virtually no media source or Democratic politician is willing to admit that the situation on the ground has changed dramatically over the past three months. Coalition efforts have undergone a remarkable reversal of fortune, a near-textbook example as to how an effective strategy can overcome what appear to be overwhelming drawbacks.

A cursory glance at 1943 would have given the impression of disaster: Kasserine, in which the German Wehrmacht nearly split Allied forces in Tunisia and sent American GIs running; Tarawa, where over 1,600 U.S. Marines died on a sunny afternoon thanks to U.S. Navy overconfidence; and Salerno, where the Allied landing force was very nearly pushed back into the sea.

But all these incidents, as bitter as they may have been, were necessary to develop the proper techniques that led to the triumphs of 1944 and 1945.

Someday, 2006 may be seen as Iraq's 1943. It appears that Gen. David Petreaus has discovered the correct strategy for Iraq: engaging the Jihadis all over the map as close to simultaneously as possible. Keeping them on the run constantly, giving them no place to stand, rest or refit. Increasing operational tempo to an extent that they cannot match, leaving them harried, uncertain and apt to make mistakes.

Update 8/4/2007 It appears that al Qaeda thinks quite highly of General Petraeus as well. The London Times reports:

Fed up with being part of a group that cuts off a person’s face with piano wire to teach others a lesson, dozens of low-level members of al-Qaeda in Iraq are daring to become informants for the US military in a hostile Baghdad neighbourhood.

The ground-breaking move in Doura is part of a wider trend that has started in other al-Qaeda hotspots across the country and in which Sunni insurgent groups and tribal sheikhs have stood together with the coalition against the extremist movement.

“They are turning. We are talking to people who we believe have worked for al-Qaeda in Iraq and want to reconcile and have peace,” said Colonel Ricky Gibbs, commander of the 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, which oversees the area.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Petraeus and al Maliki Disagree? Get the Heck Outta Here!

The newspaper reported this morning that General David Petraeus' and Iraqi prime minister Nouri al Maliki's personalities are grating on each other. That is no surprise. Petraeus has an interest to see the Iraqi people succeed in their quest for liberty, while al Maliki has ever only had the interests of the Iraqi Shia' at heart. Updated 8/4/2007

I wonder what would happen if the Iraqi people did their genealogy. Some of the lines are probably already pretty well known. But I'd bet that they'd find in many cases that, regardless of whether they are now Sunni or Shia', somewhere along the line they are related. Is that what it might take to solve the problem of religious hatred in Iraq?

It sure doesn't seem to be working with Nouri al Maliki at the helm.

A key aide says Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's relations with Gen. David Petraeus are so poor the Iraqi leader may ask Washington to withdraw the overall U.S. commander from his Baghdad post.

Iraq's foreign minister calls the relationship "difficult." Petraeus, who says their ties are "very good," acknowledges expressing his "full range of emotions" at times with al-Maliki. U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who meets with both at least weekly, concedes "sometimes there are sporty exchanges."

It seems less a clash of personality than of policy. The Shiite Muslim prime minister has reacted most sharply to the American general's tactic of enlisting Sunni militants, presumably including past killers of Iraqi Shiites, as allies in the fight against al-Qaida here.

An associate said al-Maliki once, in discussion with President Bush, even threatened to counter this by arming Shiite militias.

You mean like the ones he's already armed?

Just before I left Iraq in 2006, al Maliki became the Iraqi prime minister. All sorts of platitudes were offered, and I found myself somehow optimistic that al Maliki would make things happen. I shouldn't be surprised that I was wrong. Al Maliki seems to be a Shia first and an Iraqi last. It might have been easier if George Bush would have thought of nuances like these before we went running pell mell into Baghdad.

Maybe Petraeus should give Nouri al Maliki an ultimatum. Treat all Iraqis the same or we're outta here. Unfortunately, that's probably just what al Maliki and his Iranian compatriots want.

Update 8/4/2007 Harry Reid says the war is lost.

This [Iraq] war is lost," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has stated emphatically and without qualification. "There's simply no evidence that the escalation is working," he said recently. It requires "blind hope, blind trust" to believe in progress of any sort.

Maybe we should put him in charge of the US Forces in Iraq. Then again... General Petraeus says differently.

We have achieved . . . a reasonable degree of tactical momentum on the ground. Gains against the principal near-term threat, al Qaeda-Iraq, and also gains against what is another near-term threat, and also potentially the long-term threat, Shia militia extremists as well.

Being called a Shia extremist probably didn't sit well with Shia' extremist Nouri al Maliki. But you know, General Petraeus is right.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Get Your Hands Out of There!!!

Regardless of what you think about the way the Bush Administration has handled the war in Iraq, you have to admit...


Barack Obama and the Iraq War

Either Barack Obama is a very smooth talker, or he is a very sensible individual. I personally think he is a sensible individual. I am contemplating casting my vote for him for President of the United States. I recently read one of his books, and I found a lot in it on which I could agree with him. I was very impressed with what he said in a recent Democratic debate about the war in Iraq.

Here's what he said recently:

Here are a couple of excerpts from the video segment.

"The time for us to ask how we are going to get out of Iraq was before we went in."

"Our soldiers have done everything that's been asked of them," including the deposing of Saddam Hussein.

"We can be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in."

"There is no military solution to the problems we face in Iraq."

He also asked how can the Iraqi government think it is important to have American troops there when they just went on vacation for three weeks because it's too hot? If this is what they think of their struggle for liberty, why are we even there?

I do think there are still military solutions to aid in Iraqi liberty, but I agree with Senator Obama that the Iraqi government is taking this all too cavalierly. Perhaps the best thing we could do is tell them, "See ya. We're outta here."

The quandary that I am in personally revolves around two facts:

(1) that I was never in favor of the US invading Iraq in the first place. On this I agree wholeheartedly with Senator Obama. (I think Ron Paul is the only Republican candidate for president who feels this way.)

(2) that I served in Iraq, made many friends, and I'm now invested in their well-being, and I hope that they succeed in their quest for liberty.

George W. Bush and his helpers didn't really ever seem to be interested in the Iraqi success, because at every turn, their plans have been of the sophomoric variety.

I agree with Barack Obama that George W. Bush never made a good case for war in Iraq. I respect that had he been in the Senate in 2002-2003, he would have voted against the invasion.

Another thing I can agree with Barack Obama on is that the Iraq War has become a "dumb war" and George W. Bush should be held accountable for it.

About the Iraq war, it is the following quote which engenders in me the greatest respect for Barack Obama:

Letting the Iraqis know that we will not be there forever is our last, best hope.

There's one other thing that it's not too late to get right about this war. And that is the homecoming. The men and women. The veterans who have sacrificed the most. Let us honor their courage by providing the care they need and rebuilding the military they love. Let us be the generation that begins that work.

The Angel of Marye's Heights

This post has nothing to with Iraq, except that it exemplifies the sort of dignity with which we should comport ourselves in any combat situation. This is the Civil War story of Richard Kirkland, The Angel of Marye's Heights.

I recently toured much of the eastern United States with my three oldest children on their Utah Valley Children's Choir "One Nation Under God" tour. They performed in 8 different venues, one of which was Fredericksburg, Virginia. After the Fredericksburg concert, we stayed overnight in the home of Maurice and Alicia McBride. We got up early the next morning so that we would have some extra time, and Alicia was so kind as to give us a tour of some of the sites of the Battle of Fredericksburg. We were able to visit Marye's Heights, where a statue stands dedicated to one of the most selfless individuals of the American Civil War, Richard Kirkland.

Here is a summation of his story:

For the next two days Union troops were unable to find peace. Confederate snipers took advantage of their positions atop Willis Hill to pick off the unlucky Federal troops concentrating at the edge of Fredericksburg. It was on the bitterly-cold night of December 15 that Confederate Sergeant Richard Kirkland, his conscience unable to endure the ghastly sounds of suffering coming from the Union positions, risked his life by crossing the stone wall and providing the fallen Union troops with aid and water. This small act of human decency in the middle of such savage brutality is today remembered by a nearby monument dedicated to "The Angel of Marye’s Heights."

Good things can happen, even in battle. When the combat ends, we should each hope that we can return home with a clear conscience. Richard Kirkland reminds us that we can all comport ourselves with dignity, even in combat.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Why Do Utahns Support George W. Bush?

It is interesting that, of all the states in the Union, Utahns still have the highest approval rating for President Bush than any other state. I think I know why.

For the included graphic, I am indebted to The Utah Amicus (by way of Richard Warnick).

No other state in the United States has as high of an approval rating for President Bush as Utah. As far as I know, it's been that way for quite some time.

Here are a couple of my theories why:

Theory 1

I have noticed of late that Utah Mormons generally seem to be much more forgiving of a president who misuses his executive power than of a president who is sexually immoral. At first I supposed this was due to their heads being filled on any given day with the mush of Rush Limbaugh and the rantings of Sean Hannity. I have lately decided, however, that the opposite is true; Utah Mormons worship Rush, Sean, and others because these so-called conservatives preach a “gospel” that is deceptively similar to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to wit that we should eschew immorality while at the same time rendering unto Caesar that which belongs to him. The gospel they actually preach, though, is a politics of ad hominem attacks and division.

This, then, is my theory of why President George W. Bush as late as the end of 2007 still enjoyed an inordinate amount of popular support from the Utah crowd, while Utahns were among the first to call for the head of President Bill Clinton when his sexual improprieties became public. Most Latter-Day Saints are so busy living the gospel that they forget that politics are important as well.

Theory 2

The doctrines of the LDS church include the following statement about the Constitution and about liberty:

76 And again I say unto you, those who have been scattered by their enemies, it is my will that they should continue to importune for redress, and redemption, by the hands of those who are placed as rulers and are in authority over you—
77 According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles;
78 That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral aagency which I have given unto him, that every man may be baccountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.
79 Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.
80 And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.

Doctrine and Covenants, section 101

I think a significant number of Utahns want to see liberty take root in Iraq. I think they are worried that if they don't express support for President Bush that it will be seen as lack of support for the struggles of the Iraqi people. I don't share this view (I think Bush has made a monumental mess of it), but I see how people could feel this way.

What do you think?

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